Moving On

After several years of being in one spot in Green Valley for the month of February, you’d think we would have at least some kind of rhythm for our time there. At the very least, we should have some kind of sense of fleeting time, so that when the last few days roll around, there’s not some insane scrambling to see all the folks we intended to visit, hike all the unhiked trails (I’m talking about YOU, Butterfly Trail…), and cycle to our favorite destinations. Ah, no….apparently we haven’t learned that lesson yet.

The drastic weather change of the last two weeks threw us for a loop.We went from 10 degrees above average, to five days of rain, to two weeks of at least ten degrees below average temps. Plus, just to top everything off, there was a big snowfall the night before our departure from Madera Canyon, so we awoke to this…20180228_0854401701013167.jpg20180228_073805120414573.jpgWhile it was undeniably gorgeous, our immediate concern was getting down the 18-20% grade on our driveway safely. Whew….no problem. I can almost unclench my fists now, three days later.

We appreciated and enjoyed all aspects of our Madera Canyon stay – hiking, cycling, and the chance to do some serious hanging out with family and friends. It’s great to drop in once a year, and pick up where we left off the year before. Green Valley is a great second home for us, and we hope never to lose our enthusiasm for our month-long visit.20180301_165958-1376875323.jpg20180301_1659101142238964.jpgBut, as you know, our passion is camping, and the Campsh@ck calls seductively near the end of the month. Time to roll….

So, here we are at Picacho Peak State Park, about 50 miles north of Tucson. We’ve hiked here several times, but this is our first time in the campground. Although the sites are very large, there is little vegetation, so it feels pretty open.20180228_17064418441007.jpgBut, always looming in the background is Picacho Peak (just above the vent in the camper roof). There’s a challenge issued here, and I am powerless to resist. Although I’ve hiked here three or four times (John several times more), it’s very tough. If you fear sheer dropoffs and steep ascents, this is not the hike for you.

We decided to take a new (for us) trail to the top. The Sunset Trail takes a longer path (than the Hunter Trail) along the backside of the mountain. We cycled to the Trailhead, noting with pleasure that the ride back to camp would be mostly downhill. Thank goodness for that! We were whipped.

After a ridiculously long hike up and down through the desert, (Peak is in the left background)20180301_1128131077881370.jpg20180301_110930447357576.jpg we finally began ascending at a relentless degree up the back side of Picacho. In several places, cables have been drilled into the rock, assisting your climb. There are thin footholds (according to the standards of my size 10 feet, anyway). It’s a matter of trying to prop yourself up with your feet, and haul yourself up with your arms and shoulders. Don’t believe me? Those ‘little’ cactus on the desert floor are probably 25 feet tall. It’s a long drop.20180301_1240441378067337.jpgPerhaps the descent is even worse – John prefers to back down, while I nearly always go forward (it’s the Know Your Enemy theory…).This is much steeper than it looks here.20180301_13583921054951.jpgIn between these cabled spots are some amazing scenic views. You can see John’s white shirt on the far right as he heads down the trail.20180301_1343051549391073.jpg And the lunch spot at the peak is stunning.20180301_130844750705295.jpg20180301_1307041546239957.jpgOddly enough, the hike was yesterday. Today, we are both having trouble putting one foot ahead of the other to walk to the bathroom. Getting old? Nah.

It’s good to be back on the road.

 

Arizona Rains

It’s hard to believe that just a week ago, I posted about the extreme dryness this area of Southeast Arizona has experienced. We had unseasonably warm weather without any significant rain/snowfall in months. One hiker told me that the creeks in Madera Canyon have not had any water running since October.

Well, that has changed! Wednesday morning, the rain began, and it continued until Friday evening. We went from a wide-open view of the Canyon to this one.

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But, the most amazing part of this transformation is one that I can’t share with you. It’s the incredible aroma of Madera Canyon opening up to the rain. It’s as though every tree, grass, and shrub has opened every cell in order to absorb the maximum moisture. In doing so, the most incredible scents have been released – heavy doses of juniper and pine mixed with mesquite and a trace of woodsmoke from our neighbor’s stove. Not just your average “walk in the woods in a rainstorm” scent. (Hey Google! I need an app to capture this – an aromaphoto that I can share. Apple, of course, will call their app iSmell). After the first day of rain, the scent faded away. But it was a fantastic experience while it lasted. In the meantime, green has exploded everywhere. Hillsides full of tough brown grasses are now a pale, hazy green, and the invasive mesquite trees that plague the Arizona landscape have gone from bare skeletons to leafy trees. Does this rapid transformation only happen in extremely dry climates? I don’t know.

When the sun poked out Saturday, we booted up and headed into the Canyon for a hike. It was delightfully cool and fresh. The rushing creek, which we crossed several times was a delight to hear.

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We trekked up the Carrie Nation Mine Trail, where rusted equipment from the copper-mining days of the Canyon, about a hundred years ago, still remains.

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Madera Canyon is full of old mines – we often hike past the Vault Mine, and our rental cabin is on the site of the old Suzi Lode Mine.

Full of energy after being cooped up for three days of rain, we traversed over to the Agua Caliente Trail

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I’m not sure how legal this campfire spot would be, but it had a magnificent view of Green Valley.

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It was just a great day to be out on the Trail.

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That’s Mt. Wrightson in the distance – the highest peak in the area, at about 9700′.

Our half-way point of the hike was Josephine Saddle, where the Boy Scout Monument always makes me pause. Three Boy Scouts lost their lives there in a freak snowstorm in 1958 while on a weekend camping trip.

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The last four miles of our hike were down the Supertrail, where more great Canyon views unfolded. There was much more foot traffic on this portion of our hike – we had the trails all to ourselves on the first part.

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What a great day for a hike!

I’m writing this very late Sunday night (about 3am), and the rain is once again pounding the cabin. We’ve got high wind warnings for Monday, so it’s going to be an interesting day. Desert? Here?

Madera Malaise (the good kind)

Aside

My prediction about (myself) not getting out of the porch swing at our Madera Canyon (AZ) cabin has been self-fulfilling. There really isn’t much to report for the last few weeks.

So far, this year has been very different than last, which was our first time holed up here in the Canyon. Although it’s hard to believe, it is probably 10-15 degrees warmer every day than last year. In addition, the dryness is notable and alarming. For the first time in the nearly 9 years that I’ve been coming to the Green Valley area, (always in February), there is no snow in the upper elevations. Mt. Wrightson, which looms above our cabin, is devoid of snow. There’s no water in the creek which runs alongside the road down to Green Valley. Already, there are reports of two wildfires nearby. While we appreciate the warmer temperatures, the extreme dryness is worrisome. It doesn’t bode well for the long hot summer ahead.

Some things are the same. We’re still chasing the coatimundi away from our birdfeeders. One cheeky dude stands with his feet on the deck railing, and drinks from our hummingbird feeders.20180203_103909.jpgWe put an end to that little trick by raising all of our feeders a few inches – but they still come back and manage to get a snack every day.

While walking Jezzy a few days ago, seven coatimundis ran out in front of us – I thought Jezzy would have a heart attack! To me, coatimundis look like a cross between a raccoon and a monkey, but they can really move when they want to. We love our front-porch view of them every day.20180203_0956021410783041.jpgSpeaking of Jezzy, we have finally unraveled the mystery of her origins. Santa Claus brought her an Embarkvet DNA test, and we have the results. Her mom, maternal grandparents and great-grandparents were pure Boxer. Dad, paternal grandparents and great-grandparents are pure Old English Sheepdog. I guess that makes her an Old English Shebox – 50% Boxer, 50% Old English Sheepdog. Perfect. If you’re interested in seeing the details of her report, or are curious as to what you might find out about your own dog, click here.

It seems like the turkey flock here has grown a thousandfold. As many as 30 at a time congregate in our driveway and yard. One of the big toms has taken a liking (or maybe he wants to fight) our truck. Every morning we hear him banging away at his own reflection in the chrome bumper. It’s crazy.

We’ve hiked a bit, biked a bit. Watched the birds in the feeders. Southern Arizona is a bird-watchers heaven. So many species that we never see in Michigan are hanging out at our feeders here – Acorn Woodpeckers, Arizona Woodpeckers, Mexican Jays, Blue-Throated Hummingbirds, Oregon Junco, and Yellow-Eyed Juncos are regular visitors. It’s delightful.

A week ago, we went on a hike along a four-mile stretch of the D’Anza Historic Trail. The Friends of the D’Anza had a shuttle running, so you could walk from Tubac to Tumacacori and shuttle back. We’d never been on this flat trail, which runs along the (mostly dry) Santa Cruz River, so we headed out with Caroline and Greg. It was a pleasant hike – we met lots of families out for the day, enjoying the great weather. Without the trees in bloom yet, we had mostly a bit of light shade, with a few sections in full sun. 20180204_0929581343161400.jpgA few dicey water crossings added to a really nice hike.20180204_102300649982384.jpgWe ended our hike at the Tumacacori Mission. 20180213_07275675864348.jpgVolunteers had cooked food that was probably eaten by the original Trail travelers – on their journey from Mexico to San Franisco – hoppin John, cornbread, and some type of pudding. It was great. There was also a woman weaving baskets, slowly and patiently, with the most beautiful results. 20180204_111042202089401.jpgOur Vermont camping pals (former T@DA owners) Cathie and Jay have been here for several days. Although I’d have to admit that we’ve spent most of our time catching up on camping gigs and mutual friends, we did decide to venture across the Border to Nogales, Mexico for an afternoon. Folks we consulted said “Don’t do it. Dirty and dangerous.” We found it to be neither. The four-block area nearest the border was filled with Sunday-afternoon families out for a stroll and a snack.

Food vendors were out in force lining the streets, which (during the week) are home mostly to dentists, pharmacies, and eye clinics catering to US citizens crossing the border for inexpensive care.20180211_1326021515109109.jpg Since it was Sunday afternoon, only the pharmacies and restaurants were open, along with the stalls selling t-shirts and trinkets in the outdoor marketplace. But, there were few Americans around with ready cash. All the warnings against travel to the Mexico border towns have taken a toll in tourist traffic, and I’m sure many of the vendors there are suffering financially. But, for a few delightful hours, we wandered around, finishing with a beer/fish taco lunch.

While we were sitting in the restaurant, we did see an open-air Jeep-type vehicle with three heavily armed gendarmes in the back end. Cathie managed to capture a shot of them just as they passed by.img_74111626474770.jpg It was a reminder of the danger of this border city. But, as we wandered a few blocks later, we came upon the gathering of cops/cars, and they were gracious enough to allow Cathie to pose with one of their guys.

One of the cops even used Cathie’s phone to capture the photo. There is a bit of humanity everywhere. We all smiled and shook hands.

Of course, we had to ponder the Wall. Here’s what it looks like from the Mexico side of Nogales.img_74121575077241.jpgIn places, there are benches within a few feet of the wall, many occupied with people – perhaps waiting for their friends or relatives on the US side to connect.

So, that’s the No News Report from Madera Canyon. All is good here, but we’re already struggling with the idea that our time here is already half over! How can that be?

 

 

Hot Fun in the Sun

It has been a week long on fun, and short on quality photos. There’s a lot to be said about having such a great time that you forget to record anything for future reference. What was all the fun about?

20180126_11331482552024.jpgT@bazona! An annual gathering in the Arizona desert of fun-minded folks who share a passion for camping in their T@Bs, T@Gs, and T@DAs, T@B and T@DA share a common heritage, as they were both manufactured by Dutchman – T@B from 2004-09, and T@DA from 2008-10. Dutchman then got out of the small trailer business, and the T@B line was picked up by Nucamp. It’s more of a traditional teardrop shape than ours is, but loaded with charm and features. A T@G is an even smaller version – about the size of a queen-sized bed, most (?) with a clamshell kitchen.

We registered to join T@bazona last summer, and were fortunate to snag a site in the Usery Park group campground (no electric/water), where we camped with 25 other campers adjacent to the main campground, home to another 30 or so nestled in gorgeous sites with electric/water, firepits, and picnic tables.20180124_1428551804002955.jpg There were probably 80 people in all. This gorgeous county park in Maricopa County (Phoenix) is a a treasure – a maze of hiking/biking/bridal trails encircle the campground.

It’s beautifully maintained – kudos to the folks here who support this wonderful park system with their tax dollars. We’ve stayed at other Parks in the County, and they are all places to which we would return.

T@bazona is socializing with like-minded campers, sharing food, campfires, and the occasional adult beverage, and (of course) camping stories, tips, and tricks.20180127_1816321517153322.jpgThat’s the #1 reason we enjoy these rallies so much – avid campers trick out their rigs, and are proud and happy to show off the results. It’s all about solar, storage, decorative tips, towing, WiFi, and awnings/shelters. We had campers from as far away as Maryland, two rigs from Michigan, and from all points inbetween – everyone has their own style.

We have an organized sort of Parade of Homes, where  we traipse from camper to camper looking at all the cool stuff everyone has done. Most of the attendees were in T@Bs, along with a handful of T@Gs. We were the sole T@DA this year. Here are a few things that I’d never seen before (remember, I warned you that I took very few photos)…

Solar oven. There were cookies baking inside. Not sure how great this would be in Michigan, but it seems tailor-made for Arizona.20180127_144242408289790.jpgHow about this nifty propane radiant heater? Never seen one of these before. This could heat up our little awning on a chilly night.20180131_1713591686625743.jpgWe’re not big on game playing, but who wouldn’t love T@B checkers?20180127_135748656221599.jpgOur next project may be to develop some kind of aerial pole thingy to boost our wifi cell service. In areas where we have a weak signal, we usually wind up putting one of our phones on the roof of the Campsh@ck to boost the signal for our hotspot. I’ve been campaigning for John to mount a flagpole holder on the camper, and put a fishing pole in the holder. We could put the cell phone in a baggie on a hook and raise it up above the roofline to boost signal. Not pretty or elegant, but hopefully effective. John took a bunch of photos of possible projects, but he’s being pretty secretive about sharing them (for now, anyway).

We did get in a hike to the wind cave at Usery, with camping pals Mickie and Kim. 20180126_1020002127100023.jpg20180126_095349926059056.jpgIt was a gorgeous morning for a hike, and we wound up and up along the trail to the cave, about 1000′ elevation over a two-mile hike. Perfect morning to hit the trail, and I’m happy we got our hike done by the time the afternoon furnace-like heat kicked in.

After four days, it was time to leave. We were excited to head to Catalina State Park for a rendezvous with our Vermont friends (and former T@DA owners) Cathie and Jay. They’ve since moved on to an Airstream, but retain a small-camper enthusiasm for the outdoor life. We hoped for a more sedate experience in Catalina than the last time we visited. 

Go for a hike? Sure? We wandered up the trail with Jay to Romero Pools, which we have visited a few times in the past. It was shocking to see how little water there was.20180129_110405959072727.jpg20180129_110647-11827750297.jpg Where’s the pool? Other times we have visited, we’ve been treated to the delightful sound of running water down the mountainside into the pools, and dozens of hikers cooling off hot feet in the cool flowing water. This was a very different experience. Nearly barren. It was hot on the trail – we suffered.20180129_115821-11850123116.jpgEverything here is so dry – we are one matchstick away from a catastrophe, it seems. In the seven or eight years I’ve been coming to this area, this is the first time where there has been ZERO snow in the upper elevations. Mount Lemmon has an elevation of about 9200′ – there should be some snow up there in January. Seems like this is a bad sign for the area in the coming months.

Ahhhh….we’re now in the comfort of our Madera Canyon cabin. If you are a reader of this blog from a year ago, you’ll recognize this view.20180131_170553-11329694649.jpg Yep. For the next month, we are stretching out. Hike. Bird-watching. Coatimundi. Time with my sisters (who are both in the area for this month). SuperBowl. Cycling. If you want to find me in the next month, I’d suggest you look on the porch swing on the right.

We began our first day here with the most incredible views from of the supermoon eclipse. Set our alarm for 4:30 am, and sat outside with coffee, watching the eclipse develop over the mountainside. For the second time in a year, I was very sad not to have photography equipment up to the challenge of a celestial event. It was magnificent.

Feeling very peaceful….wishing the same for you.

 

 

Take a Hike!

If I had a nickel for everytime somebody told me to take a hike, I’d be able to buy myself a fancy coffee drink. But, up here in the heights of Arizona, it’s a welcome idea.

Last week Sunday, when the snow was swirling a few hundred feet above our heads, and John was deep into the NY Times Sunday crossword, cabin fever was getting to my usual sunny disposition (ha!). The weekend had been filled with cold rain – snow in the upper elevations. When it looked like there might be an opening for a few hours, I headed out. John was happy to be left behind, Jezzy not so much.

I decided to hike to Bog Springs, heading to a lower Canyon elevation before beginning a climb. The snow line was about 6000′, and I was in no mood to cross that line! Solo hiking is unusual for me – on a hike of any length, John and I usually go together. At the very least, Jezzy is alongside. But, I planned to go about seven miles, which is a considerable distance for her. She marked her 11th birthday in December, and is not the hiking machine she was in her earlier years. Willing, but not as able. So, I headed off by myself, wearing my hooded rain jacket in case of showers. Smart choice.

The trail began as a horribly rutted jeep road, no really fun to walk on, and unimaginable (to me, anyway) to drive. (that’s not fog, that’s snow ahead).wp-1487877346959.jpg Bouncing around in any kind of vehicle is nothing I would EVER vountarily do. But, then it turned off into a gorgeous foot trail, winding up and down until it finally led to the spring.wp-1487877375419.jpg I was the only one there…so peaceful and beautiful. Yes, I did take a drink. The water was c-c-c-cold!wp-1487877384751.jpg On the way back, I got pelted by a sleety rain for a brief period. Other than that, my hike was about seven miles of pure enjoyment. Loved the colors in this boulder.20170223_121702.jpgAnd, it’s no mystery why this tree is called an Alligator Juniper.wp-1487877400190.jpgEarlier this week, we persuaded friends to join us on a hike to Atascosa Lookout, an old fire lookout station a mile or so from the Border (near Nogales).wp-1487877284155.jpg This is one of my favorite hikes – probably because it was one of the first ones I did on my first trip here about ten years ago, with John, but before we married.wp-1487877270244.jpgwp-1487877257747.jpg This area is part of the Coronado National Forest, the same NF as our current home in Madera Canyon. Ironically, the original lookout, home for a period to writer Edward Albee, burned to the ground in 2011. I feel lucky to have been up there a couple of times when it was still intact – it was a marvelous place with old hand-written logs and artifacts respectfully kept. I had hoped to post a few photos of the intact lookout, but can’t find them. (I’d make a lousy historian).Efforts to rebuilt the cabin have fizzled, and now the area is home to lots of electronic gear, probably belonging to Homeland Security.wp-1487877235345.jpg The lookout area is the perfect spot for lunch, with its 360 degree views.wp-1487877116570.jpg The Border is close, but not marked in any way that we can spot from our perch. Survey markers from the USGS and Forest Service are embedded into the rocky crest.

As we descended toward the spot where the truck was parked,wp-1487877284155.jpg we had to pass through a gate, marking a free-range area. There was a huge bull standing there!wp-1487877099928.jpg Not sure why, but I was the first person through the gate. Thankfully, the bull just gave me kind of a baleful look, and glared at all of us as we passed through. Several more were lounging near the truck. It was unnerving.

We’re trying to jam as much into our last few days here as possible. It’s Saturday as I write this, and we have to vacate Tuesday by noon. It’s been a great month, but we are ready to roll again. Here are a few more fun sights from the area. Love the prickly bear-hug this saguaro cactus is offering. The stone marker is from our neighbor up here in the Canyon, Madera Kubo. The owner of this B & B is the person who built our cabin.